At this point, after 17 days with no end in sight, it's fair to ask the question. the PlayStation Network Outage, or the Xbox 360's Red Ring of Death: Which is worse?
Let's leave aside the data breach, though it is one of the largest in history, and is the feature of this disaster that attracts so much mainstream attention. Within the gaming community, the idea that a console would be completely without its online functionality for this long is just staggering.
The Red Ring of Death is forever an embarrassment to Microsoft, and deservedly so. A console that does not work is about as bad as it gets. But that affected a single product directly. The PSN outage has a much more direct and damaging effect on publishers and studios, given the nature of the problem and the state of online marketplaces now versus 2006 to 2008.
This isn't simply an issue of inconvenience to Killzone 3 gamers or those pinched by Capcom's ridiculous DRM in Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2. Anyone playing D.C. Universe Online on the PS3 has been completely shut out of their game, for which they pay a monthly fee (in addition to the title's retail cost). Sucker Punch's Infamous 2 beta has been interrupted.
The outage happened the day after three titles with huge multiplayer components released: Mortal Kombat and Portal 2, whose lead consoles were the PS3, and SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs, the PS3-exclusive military shooter. SOCOM may suffer the most of any single game. The outage is devastating to any effort to build a community, and it, coupled with the game's cool critical reception, could even spell the end of that series. Another Zipper PS3 exclusive, MAG is completely dark.
Publishers with heavy DLC offerings-think EA Sports, especially in its Ultimate Team offerings in FIFA, NHL and Madden-must be furious. They're looking at 17 days of lost revenue, although it could be argued some will end up being bought anyway when PSN comes back. But who knows how many have simply moved on to another game and won't come back when it does.
Developers who sell through the PlayStation Store are affected even more disproportionately. Develop spoke to one unnamed studio last Thursday, which said it had seen "absolutely no revenues," during the outage. That's when the shutdown was a week old. The studio wants a break on the royalties they pay to Sony when the PlayStation Store comes back online. They can't be the only ones who feel that way.
That price break will be part of a package of make-goods-to PlayStation Plus subscribers, to DCUO subscribers, to plain-old free PSN account-holders-that, coupled with the costs of restoring PSN, augmenting its security, even offering identity theft protection to customers, has some analysts pegging this at a billion-dollar loss for Sony.
It was rumored that Microsoft created a billion-dollar fund to address repairs related to the infamous Red Ring of Death in its original Xbox 360 design. At this point, it's fair to compare the two. Both are, for all time, awful blots on their respective consoles and brands.
• Both involve failures of imagination. In the 360's case, it was a terrible design flaw that had its origins in an attempt to save production costs. In Sony's, it was terribly relaxed, substandard security that hackers joked about on IRC channels months before the attack. Though Microsoft was victimized by its own incompetence, and Sony by a criminal act, the PSN outage is akin to burglars robbing you through a back door you never cared to lock.
• Neither company was a model of transparency. Microsoft insisted early on that the 360's failure rate was within industry standards. Sony knew that data had been removed from their system six days before alerting customers their personal information was compromised.
• Both incidents deprive gamers of the use of goods or services for which they have paid. Here, Red Ring of Death is probably worse because 360 owners had absolutely nothing for a month while their console was being fixed and shipped back. PS3 owners still have offline play.
• Both incidents damage their customers' trust. This can't be overstated. No doubt, millions will return to PS3 gaming online, the same way millions returned to the Xbox 360 after getting a repaired console back. That's because it's a $300 piece of equipment and walking away from it isn't an option for many. But the resentment, the begrudging acceptance, the scorn for the brand will linger. And Sony faces the added disappointment of being unable to protect its customers.
Yes, through the long lens of history, we'll be able to more completely address which incident was worse for or more damaging to either company. Certainly since the Falcon motherboard three years ago and the new Xbox 360 designs that have followed, RRoD is effectively eradicated, like childhood polio. Microsoft appears to have recovered. Sony may very well rebound too. In both cases, the stinging embarrassments should deliver a long-run positive for gamers, as companies take greater care to make sure something like this never happens to them.
That is for the future. I'm curious how we feel now. What's worse, Red Ring of Death, or the PlayStation Outage?